Smith and Labuschagne rack up double centuries on milestone day for Australia

It is a matter of some amusement that Marnus Labuschagne could make a Test double century and still end up as part of a Steve Smith day. So it goes playing alongside somebody whose career is already part legend. Australia’s number three reached the milestone first, taking 204 runs from the West Indies at Perth before finally nicking the part-time spin of Kraigg Braithwaite in the last over before lunch on the second day. But Smith took over the match as his canvas, moving from 114 to an even 200 not out, one ball before Brathwaite bowled Travis Head on 99 and Australia declared on 598 for four. West Indies were 74 for none at the close.

Labuschagne had been indefatigable in the limelight after his first day, happily doing a series of boundary-line interviews, a long press conference, and backing up with more interviews at throwdowns the following morning on an unusually cool and cloudy Perth day. Resuming on 154, with Australia 293 for two, he had the energy to help Smith with an all-run four in the first over. He had luck when miscuing Kyle Mayers and Jason Holder, he got through Alzarri Joseph, and he saw too much middling spin from Roston Chase while young quick Jayden Seales was barely seen. Whether it was the recent milestone or the impending break, Labuschagne lost concentration for just long enough to end his extended stay. The score was 402 for three, the partnership 251.

By then Smith had gone from 59 overnight to his 29th Test century, equalling the storied mark of Donald Bradman, while trailing only Matthew Hayden, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting on the national list. It was a Smith hundred that felt strange because it felt rare. That sentiment seems like it should be inaccurate, but for some years Steve Smith has not been himself. At least, not the freakish version of himself that once racked up Test tons with a frequency not seen outside Bradman and George Headley.

From 2013 to 2019, across a span of six years that lost 16 months to his playing ban, he racked up 26 centuries in 56 Tests. Then the three years since the last match of the 2019 Ashes returned one century from 19 starts. It was July this year against Sri Lanka in Galle when he used his remodelled technique to finally add another, and now this Perth double makes it centuries in consecutive matches for the first time since 2017.

What was notable was how smoothly Smith went up through the gears in the second session, in a virtuous cycle of making the West Indies bowling fall apart before taking further advantage. He hit boundaries through the covers and mid-off routinely, rather than crabbing most deliveries to the leg side as has been the method in recent years. In the meantime he never stopped hunting singles and twos. The situation was set up for Head’s impulse-driven game, allowing him to carve away his favoured cuts and uppercuts in between dismissing a succession of poor deliveries outside his leg stump.

West Indies gave up as the 196-run partnership flourished, with Chase and Brathwaite bowling 17 overs of spin in the second session with no apparent aim than to save their fast bowlers while nursing Australia to a declaration. Smith went to tea on 189, Head on 80, with both permitted time to chase their milestones while their teammates watched on from the boundary line wearing fielding whites. In the fifth over after the break, having just watched Smith’s demonstrative celebrations, Head tried to gently dab a single rather than carting to midwicket, edging the ball back onto his stumps. With nearly 600 on the board against an exhausted opponent, it would hardly have been his most prized milestone.

West Indies had some consolation in showing that the batting surface was as survivable as their bowling had made it look, with Brathwaite and Tagenarine Chanderpaul putting together an unbeaten half-century stand. At times the bowling was not accurate enough to keep one player on strike, though there were testing moments: Chanderpaul survived a Mitchell Starc lbw review that proved to be umpire’s call, and a Josh Hazlewood delivery that smashed him in the box. The debutant opener, who looked markedly like his legendary father Shivnarine with his open stance and crouching left-handed approach to the ball, recovered to hook Pat Cummins for six and flay Hazlewood through point, moving to 47 by the close. Awaiting day three, at least he knows that it has been a good match for milestones.